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DVD Brief: Lost Horizon

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Lost Horizon
Lost Horizon

Columbia TriStar Home Video
134 minutes
Black and white
Full screen 1.33:1 (enhanced for 16x9)
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Interactive menu
Theatrical trailer
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Extras: Restoration audio commentary by restoration experts Charles Champlin and Robert Gitt; before and after restoration comparison; photo documentary with narration by historian Kendall Miller; three deleted scenes, alternate ending, production notes.
Suggested Retail Price: $27.95
Director: Frank Capra
Writer: Robert Riskin
Cast: Ronald Coleman, Jane Wyatt, John Howard, Margo, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton, Sam Jaffe, H.B. Warner.

Description: This is a welcome restoration of a truly classic film that most people have only seen in a bowdlerized version. Based on James Hilton's 1933 novel, "Lost Horizon" is a departure from the usual upbeat American-themed film ("Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "It's a Wonderful Life") that characterized Capra's oeuvre. Ronald Coleman plays Robert Conway, a wise British diplomat who -- along with his brother and a group of Americans -- escapes by plane a small village in China overrun by warlords only to be hijacked to Tibet. After crashing in the Tibetan mountains, the group is escorted by mysterious mountain people to Shangri-La, a peaceful, enchanted paradise where time stands still and the inhabitants live to be several hundred years old. Conway falls in love with the life there -- and with Jane Wyatt -- and discovers the reason he was brought to Shangri-La: he's been picked to become the new High Lama.

"Lost Horizon" was mounted by director Frank Capra and Columbia Pictures in 1936 as the most expensive Columbia film of its time -- costing the studio $2.5 million, half the year's budget. Columbia created lavish sets for the production, including a 1,000-foot by 500-foot lamasery based on the concepts of Frank Lloyd Wright. Capra and Columbia honcho Harry Cohn were at loggerheads almost from the beginning; with so much money riding on the production Cohn wanted the less-expensive acting services of Brian Aherne for the role of Conway and was unconvinced that Sam Jaffe would make a believable dying High Lama. After a disastrous test screening (in which a preview audience laughed at the film's opening in which an amnesiac Conway relates his adventures in Shangri-La in flashback), Capra cut the first two reels, starting the film with the exciting escape from China. There was also a more sentimental ending that Cohn insisted that Capra use; that was changed to the original ending after a few weeks of release.

Restorer Gitt had difficulty finding a complete print of the film, locating all but seven minutes of its running length (it had been cut some 16 minutes for small town U.S. release and cut 24 minutes for a World War II release -- which, incidentally, changed the opening scene to have the small Chinese village being overrun by the Japanese and deleted some of the film's pacifist sentiments) but was able to find a complete soundtrack. Production stills are elegantly interspersed in the film to make up for the missing footage. Gitt never did find an original master negative of the film but he did find some original outtakes (of the High Lama's funeral procession) and the restoration documentary highlights this footage. This pristine black and white footage has to be some of the most achingly beautiful material ever put on film. The contrast, the definition, the depth of the cinematography of that old film stock gives viewers a visual taste of the astounding capabilities of black and white film during the golden era of filmmaking. Color (and today's black and white) just doesn't hold a candle to the unique glory of the best of black and white work.

Image: This is archival quality remastering that sets the standard for black and white restoration.

Sound: Crisp and clean.

All DVDs are screened on a reference Onkyo DV- S717 third-generation DVD player.

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